YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE WITH — And You’re Not a Phony Either !

When I attempted to describe to a friend what I meant by "you are who you are with" the first response was "I try not to be different. That would mean that I'm a phony at times."

No.  What I simply meant is this–we are different with different people because it is our relationship with them, our feelings towards them,  and a variety of other factors which produces what is unique to that relationship.

You are not the same person in your relationship to your spouse that you are with a friend.  You are not the same person when dealing with a business partner as with a relative.  You are different in your dealing with your parents, and each parent is different as well.

You speak to each friend and relate to them each differently.

If you have children, you are different with each one. 

Much of this difference reflects the nature and personality of the other individual and how you feel towards them. 

In other words, the relationship determines how you speak, act, behave towards the other.  Usually we are not aware of this.  The interaction occurs spontaneously without conscious thought.

In many cases the differences are quite subtle.  But I believe they are there.

What adds to the confusion is that as these relationships change over tim. So do we when we are engaged in them.  When you are angry with someone, you are different towards them.  When you reconcile, again you are different.    If you find someone attractive on any level you relate to them differently than someone who "turns you off".

We "read" the other's feelings, intentions, emotions and are guided in our own responses by what we perceive.  Much of this, on a subliminal level.

In fact some autistic, Asperger's individuals have difficulty with interpersonal relationships because they do not "read" others very well.  In other words, they often fail to establish flowing, harmonious relations with others.  They may not "change" from relationship to relationship as most of us do. 

So don't be hard on yourself if you notice the phenomenon in yourself.  You are not a phony.  Just human.

 

HEALING THROUGH FEAR

Fear can be the most devastating of all emotions.  As newborns we have no awareness of it.  But it soon creeps into our consciousness–we are ultimately alone in the world, totally dependent on others for our very survival.  If we are fortunate, we have parents who support us emotionally, mitigating the power of fear.

If not, we spend the rest of our lives battling it.  It is probably the source of all aggression and hatred as well.  What we fear we hate.  Rather than admitting that we fear the unknown ( ie: individual, culture, race, religion or country) we demonize the "other" and transform fear into hatred.

Genocide, wars, persecutions likely find their origin in fear transformed into rage.

Fear, unrecognized and unacknowledged, can keep us from reaching our highest potential.

Yet fear is not all bad.  In fact it is, itself quite neutral.

Many have used  fear of failure or abandonment to drive them towards success in personal achievement.  Others recognize that fear alerts us to true danger and can, therefore, assist us in avoiding  it.

But fear has another application.  Its universality can be a source of awareness that we share its devastating power with all other beings.  No one escapes its grip.

  From that perspective, even the most "successful", wealthy, famous among us share this common human emotion. Even those we have deemed the enemy or "other" are no different from us in this essential regard.

We can offer compassion to all living, feeling beings.  As the Buddhists refer to them–as sentient beings.  All anger, arrogance, hatred, haughtiness can melt away in the face of this recognition.

Fear, so recognized, can be a powerful tool for healing.

MEDITATION — Now More Than Ever

For some the term meditation conjures images of Far Eastern Buddhist or Hindu holy men engaged in non-doing.  It may seem totally irrelevant, even contrary to how we live our lives in the Western world.

We do things. We are technology junkies. We are constantly in motion.  We multi-task.  We eat and read.  We drive and text (don't do it!).  We look at our Blackberries, I phones and not into the eyes of those next to us.  We seem to never have enough time to do what we need to do. So….meditate?  Forget about it!

But just take a moment.  Do we actually accomplish everything we desire to do?  Do we not find that we are more like hamsters on a treadmill, running faster and getting nowhere?  Do we not find ourselves more frustrated, more anxious, less happy than ever?  Is anxiety and depression any less prevalent?

If serenity resides within our minds ( see last posting) than we will NEVER be happy as long as we neglect our minds. 

Ironically, many of us fit physical activity into our insane schedules.  Of course we multi-task there too.  We cannot even just pay attention to our minds and bodies when we exercise.  We think we will miss something in the outer world, or not listen to our music, or not read our Nook book.  But we totally neglect the training of who we are and were we reside–within our own minds.

In fact although meditation may have been practiced for thousands of years (by the way in all traditions and religions) it may have been destined to be most useful for us today.

We absolutely need to step back from the chaotic way we live and take a few moments to examine the contents of our minds and seek some control over how it behaves.

We need to realize that it is NOT time wasted.  On the contrary, it is the only way to fix what is broken–our state of being. 

We forget that we are know as HUMAN BEINGS, not HUMAN DOINGS for a reason.  Yet we believe it is what we DO rather than who we are that matters.  Who we are is the product of our minds.

Now more than ever we need to remember that.  We ignore it at our own risk.

Ironically technology and contemporary society will push us to adapt one of our oldest healing remedies–mediation.

MEDITATION & SERENITY {the PRAYER too}

The Serenity Prayer as well-known to millions contains within it the deep understanding of how to manage the challenges of life.  To re-state it  :  GOD  GRANT  ME  THE  SERENITY  TO  ACCEPT  WHAT  I  CANNOT  CHANGE,  THE  COURAGE  TO  CHANGE  WHAT  I  CAN  AND  THE  WISDOM  TO  KNOW  THE  DIFFERENCE.

Variations on it (perhaps originally penned by Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr) have spread across the recovery world as well as into the consciousness of ordinary human beings because of the realization that our ultimate suffering and happiness (serenity) resides within our minds.

Yet just knowing this truth does not make it easy to experience.  I have heard  friends and patients express this frustration time and again.  "I know I should accept what I can't change.  I just can't do it!  If I can't do it…..I'll never find serenity!"

This may be the place where meditation can be of great help.

In particular, mindfulness mediation which allows us to experience the content of our minds as the witness of our oown thoughts and feelings. 

There are many excellent sources for exploring mindfulness meditation available on the web.  But in short it begins with experiencing the in and out flow of the breath from our nostrils. Our minds will seem to instantly jump to thoughts and feelings.

It is the "monkey chatter" Buddhist adepts speak of.  It is actually humorous to observe how difficult it is to maintain the focus of our minds on the breath.  Our minds are so used to doing this incessant jumping that we can't easily stop it.

When we recognize that we are thinking/feeling rather than breathing, we gently return to attending to our breaths.  We repeat this over and over during our daily sessions.  Gradually, I am told, our minds will become better at focusing attention.  It will become less unruly and better at addressing it own content–our thoughts and feelings.

I have written about neurotherapy and brain training.  Meditation is the oldest and perhaps most effective form of just that.  Meditation allows our minds to be more effective at dealing with life's inevitable obstacles and challenges.  But it takes time and practice.  Habits are notoriously difficult to break and our minds are habitually in a state of chaos.

Meditation actually works.  It calms the mind which then calms the body.  We find that our problems have not changed, but our ability to address and deal with them has.  The words of the Serenity Prayer now have deeper meaning when we can actually experience serenity.It may very well allow us to actually DO what the Serenity Prayer requests–accept what we cannot change as well as the courage and wisdom that necessarily follows.    This is true healing.

It certainly cannot hurt to try.

DEPRESSION LEADS TO DEMENTIA — What We Can Learn About the Power of Our Minds to Heal or Hurt

This fascinating short piece in the NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/health/research/20risk.html?_r=1&ref=science  adds insight into the relationship between the brain and the mind.

In brief the article points to the higher incidence in subsequent dementia in those who were depressed throughout large periods in their early lives.

Some could argue that both depression and dementia are diseases of the physical brain.  There are clearly examples of brain-related depressions to be sure.  But what is implied by this article is that the persistent mood state of depression can lead to the structural changes in the brain characteristic of dementia.

This is consistent with other examples in which the active choices of our minds induce physical changes in the brain.  Although this concept may seem self-evident to some, it is not embraced in general by neuroscientists.  Many believe that our thoughts and feelings are based primarily upon the structure of the neurons, synapses and interconnections within our physical brain.  It is argued that our thoughts and feelings are the consequence not cause of these cerebral structures and interconnections.

It raises the centuries old philosophical issue of  the mind/brain relationship.

Evidence from long time meditators clearly demonstrates physical and physiologic changes in their brains.  It is highly unlikely that they were born with such neurocognitive brain patterns.

So we are left with the lesson that what we think, how we feel, how we interpret the events in our lives may ultimately lead to issues of healing or suffering.

No one pretends that choosing an optimistic attitude on life is easy or always doable. We all experience mental and emotional suffering but some of us  successfully make the courageous effort to move past them and accept life on its own terms.  They seek and do find serenity.

 Multiple studies do clearly demonstrate  that those who can view life with a glass half-full, live a healthier life than their half-empty colleagues and now, it seems, are less likely to suffer from dementia as well.

DID OUR ANCESTORS WEAR “BEER GOGGLES” ? — Conspicuously Absent From Scientific American Article

Always seeking to understand the nature of human nature, I could not help but be amused by a quote from the following Scientific American article by Michael Shermer http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=our-neandertal-brethren  .  The article itself was quite fascinating, declaring Neanderthals as a subspecies of homo sapiens rather than a separate hominid species.

His evidence comes from the fact that clearly our ancestors and Neanderthals mated and produced viable offspring (the definition of a species) since modern day humans of European and Asian descent contain between 1 to 4% Neanderthal DNA.

Now some of you may know what "beer goggles" are.  In short it is the enhanced attractiveness of members of the opposite sex when one has been over-indulging in alcoholic beverages.

Now despite our attempts to "humanize" the Neaderthals, it would be a stretch to state they were "beautiful" people of their day.  Yet somehow, our ancestors found a way to find the way to have sexual relations with them.  Were they drinking too much bruskies?

To quote Shermer, "I always suspected that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans interbred based on a simple observation:  humans are the most sexual of all the primates, willing and able to do it just about anywhere, anytime and with anyone (and even with other species if the Kinsey report is to be believed on its findings about farmhands and their animal charges.)

So fellow seekers.  Our worst (or best) fears have been confirmed. What the Scientific American article failed to mention:  our horny ancestors must have worn "beer goggles" too.

 

THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN HEALING

An often overlooked aspect in the healing of body, mind and soul is quite simply human to human interaction.

Loneliness clearly leads to impairment of all aspects of who we are.  Failure to pick up and nurture new born mammals of all kinds, including us, leads to impaired physical and emotional growth.  It is a sad consequence of war, abuse, neglect and families that adopt children whose early days and months of life were devoid of appropriate human contact are faced with severely dysfunctional children. We just don't develop normally without the human element of touch.

It fascinates me, as well, to realize that the harshest punishment that prisons can impose on their inmates is –solitary confinement.  Who would suppose that the most hardened of criminals, those with clearly deviant interpersonal skills would fear isolation more than anything else.  But perhaps not so surprising since most were deprived of the human element in their formative years.

This truth is demonstrated to me in over 30 years of the clinical practice of medicine. I hear personal stories of loneliness, of separation.  Without verbalizing it I know that they  feel  unable or unworthy of connecting with other human beings.

I have seen this in patients of all ages–young, isolated, feeling unloved and unlovable.  The elderly, many having lost spouses, their children not living nearby or emotionally distant from them.

Clearly their impaired physical state is directly related to their emotional isolation.

Therefore, I often prescribe the human element to them.  Reach out to others, join groups–religious, social, nondenominational. Take classes at local schools. Call old friends.  It doesn't really matter who or what group they join.

It makes a huge difference.  I have seen the results.  Physical improvement correlates with emotional and spiritual healing. 

It is all connected.

 

THE WORLD OF ACTION — Kabbalistic Metaphysics & Depression

Depression seems both epidemic and endemic.  Many of us suffer from it as a consequence of our own inherent brain chemistry and structure made worse by the circumstances of our lives.  When I inquire whether a patient is undergoing stress, I rarely need to wait for an answer.  In fact if they say "no" I question whether they are in denial.

This brings me to this posting which revisits the relationship between "The Secret" which offered healing through positive visualization and the Kabbalistic metaphysical approach, namely action. http://drstevenhodes.typepad.com/meta_physician/2009/05/why-the-secret-doesnt-worka-kabbalisitc-understanding.htm

I also need to re-introduce the notion of metaphysics.  Very simply, it is the study of the nature of reality–the rules of the game of existence.  And as we all intuitively know, it is hard to succeed at a game whose rules elude us.

I had previously recognized the value of positive visualization, namely how we think about our lives and our situation.  My criticism of "The Secret" was its lack of emphasis on the importance of action, of doing.

The Kabbalistic reference is relevant because of the concept that our physical world, ASSIYAH is THE WORLD OF ACTION.  It is where we are and therefore cannot expect change or healing without recognizing the need for action.

The highly successful cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) recognizes the need to mentally accept what is happening, re frame it, the cognitive aspect, in terms that allow us to move on and remain positive, followed by concrete actions, our behaviors which can lead to further healing.

Depression tends to lead to inaction. This furthers the belief that we will never recover from our sadness.  This is a dangerous place to be and the possibility of a downward spiral into the abyss is all too possible.  We feel a lack of energy, of motivation. Pessimism rules.  Why try to change if there is no hope?  Yet without action there can be no healing.  Here is where metaphysics is crucial.  We need to understand the nature of reality, the rules of the game of existence.

It is necessary to be truthful with ourselves.  If we are not happy, depressed we need to first acknowledge it, accept it as our present state of being.  Yet immediately recognize that change is the nature of existence, that healing is possible.  We can then address our thoughts about how we feel, recognize that we desire to feel differently and that this state of being can be altered.

Neuroscience has confirmed these truths.  Neuroplasticity allows for changing our present patterns of thought and behavior.

Re-framing our thoughts into a more positive approach comes first but will help us heal ONLY if followed by concrete action.  In fact the feeling of anxiety which often accompanies depression should be used to fuel the action.

Getting out, meeting others, planning a strategy is crucial.  Regardless of whether it actually changes our situation, the move to act itself will be healing. It will feedback on our brain, our sense of passivity and futility will be altered.  Hope can be restored which further offers us more energy to act.

Physical exercise is action and can alter our brain chemistry in a positive mode.  Subsequent actions will keep us moving, literally.  This is a necessary first step towards healing depression.

So keep metaphysics, the way the universe works, in mind.  Change our minds first, then our deeds.

BAD KIDS — Nuture Vs Nature

Can good parents produce bad kids? The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/health/13mind.html?src=me&ref=general addresses this sensitive issue with a new openness.

It is a logical follow-up to an equally confusing situation but one more openly discussed–when an individual seems to rise above a terrible childhood and "succeed" in life.

All of us who have had life experience are aware of both situations.  Yet the explanation to either remains a mystery.  It does seem rather logical that kind, sensitive, caring parenting produces more balanced, effective and generally successful offspring.

The challenge in all this is how we define each of these terms.  One child reared by parents in one household may react differently (and often does) to the circumstances they encounter.  They may rebel against a painful, stressful home life by becoming more independent and ambitious.  They may vow never to repeat the negativity they encountered and strive mightily to overcome it.

They have used their suffering and transformed it into a different way of being.  Of course the internal wounds may remain forever but outwardly they appear to do well.

How often do we encounter siblings, raised in the same enviornment, yet constitutionally different who describe their home life  in completely opposite terms?  Clearly their parenting was not identical.  How a parent interacts with a child is dependent upon the mix of BOTH their personalities.

Furthermore, how our culture define's "success" may be problematic as well.  Does money, fame and material possessions serve to do so?  Then perhaps this explains the troubled lives of many young celebrities who might otherwise be deemed "successful" in life.

And the converse may be equally true.  A child of otherwise successful parents might choose a lifestyle deemed less so–yet may be ultimately more content and happy than their parents.

Another child facing the same scenario may incorporate negativity into low self-esteem and struggle merely to survive.

Poor choices may lead some to a downward spiral which exacerbates the underlying emotional and psychological tendencies.  Likewise, a determined act of will can counter the tendencies and improve the situation immensely.

The factors that produce who we are, what type of human being we become can be added up, subtracted, multiplied or divided.  Yet such mathematical algorithms will never work when it comes to an entity as complex as the human mind.

Just as parents cannot change the color of their children's eyes or their ultimate height, I believe we are all born with intrinsic personalities and predispositions.  Parental influence cannot be underestimated–but neither can the individual choices of the offspring themselves.

The topic is important and needs further exploration.  Too often parents accept the praise and suffer the condemnation for their children's outcomes.  The truth is much more complex.  As is any discussion of human behavior.

THE BIG CHILL — Give Me Cryonics or Give Me Death

I will be honest with you.  I never really "got" the concept of cryonics–of freezing someone's brain upon death with the hope of some future resurrection in an age of medical miracles. 

It immediately brings to mind Woody Allen's comic masterpiece Sleeper in which he is thawed out by mistake 200 years in the future.

A recently NY Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/magazine/11cryonics-t.html?ref=magazine  deals with the dilemma of one particular family.  The scientist husband wants to be frozen, his hospice working wife is aghast at the entire concept.

I am clearly on the side of the wife.  Acceptance of death, real physical death is as basic to understanding and appreciating life as is breathing.  It is just the way things are.  A basic Buddhist practice was (? is) to place young Buddhist monks in a room full of decaying corpses.  This is it.  Our physical existence is transient.  Our nature is to be born, grow, decay and die.

This issue of a soul or evolving consciousness is a separate but important issue.

To those of us who either believe this to be true, or have sought evidence to support it, the notion of preserving our physical brains/ bodies makes no sense.

And even assuming a resuscitation was possible–in what condition would we be in anyway?

I am open to further discussion and consideration on the concept but as for now–"give me death".